Friday, January 29, 2016

The Last Year

   Today marks one year since the birth of our son, Asher. If you don't know the story, you can read about it starting here: Say Something. Today is his birthday. The day he was born, even if it was six months too soon and he never took a breath. Stillborn but  born still. I believe that Asher was a profound gift to our lives. He gave us joy while he was here, he taught us invaluable lessons about countless things in his passing, and he gave me the experiences to be able to set up what I believe is my true calling in life: a bereavement doula. A woman who serves families during birth and loss in all trimesters.
   Asher's life, death, birth, and the aftermath changed me completely as a person, and revealed my life's mission, but this journey started a long, long time ago.  Before I was born, in fact. You see, I have a brother. He's 15 months older than me. He died when he was two days old. I never saw his face- there's not a single picture that exists of him, never heard his voice, but I've undeniably had a connection to him since I was born. I've always felt an emptiness, a longing for him. My firstborn son is named after him, and I have always had a deep burden for parents who have lost their babies.
   Over the years I have done a lot to help families who have lost their babies before or after birth, and have always felt a driving passion to do more. When Asher was born, I crumbled. I became an unrecognizable shell inside myself, and struggled to pull myself together. Over the last year I have shed so many layers of myself in the healing process that I am truly not the same person I was a year ago. For several months my life became very dark as I grieved, mourned, and struggled deeply with PTSD. In May 2015, things finally started to turn around. Quite frankly, if you haven't seen and deeply related to me since last May, you have no idea who I am anymore. I'm not the same person. At all.
   In August I was listening to a podcast of our church's teaching from the Sunday before after we'd missed a service, and  during that message I heard an audible voice in my head say, "Bereavement doula." I had no idea it was "a thing," nor did I know how to find it, but I Googled the term. The very first thing that came up was the amazing establishment called Stillbirthday. It's a thing. It's a really, real thing, and they train you for it with their intensive, collegiate-level occupational training course. The course has taught me so much informationally, intellectually, spiritually, and healed even more layers emotionally than I even knew I had. I might even dare to say that May aside, if you haven't really spent time with me and connected with me since the training began in October, then you really don't know the person I am today.  For the past six months I have been working intensively on this journey through Stillbirthday University, to become an internationally-recognized, fully licensed birth doula in addition to the specialty bereavement doula training, and I will continue to work on it for a long time to come. The learning, healing, and helping never  end. There's always more to learn and study. Always more to read and experience. Always more to change and adapt. I've even begun defying my lifelong intense social anxiety and introverted personality to do public speaking about supporting one another through miscarriage and stillbirth(a recording of a speaking I did for a local MOPS ground is here: Chapel South MOPS ).
   In the midst of all this, there has been so much life happening. Our Rainbow was conceived and continues to thrive. We've gained some incredible relationships, and said goodbye to much toxicity. In the last month as we have closed in on this first "angelversary" of saying goodbye to our tiny Asher, we have experienced so much support and love. Just in the last week- even in the last 48 hours- we have had so many precious friends come along side us with texts, PMs, emails, and calls, just telling us they love us, they, too, remember Asher, and they want us to know they're praying for and thinking of us. It has so overwhelmed my heart with peace and love, knowing my boy is not forgotten, his life mattered, and we are so loved and supported. There have been digs aplenty- the unmissable absence of those who were once very close to us, the complete ignoring of the day by those who you would expect to care, and two weeks ago the straight up, I don't know what else to call it but judgment and hatred, of a once closest friend and family member declaring that this "tragedy" was fruit of hard hearts and not walking with God as she thinks we should. But you know what? I can appreciate it. My heart can feel all the feels and still be okay. My heart can appreciate that these people have declared with their words, actions, and lack of actions, to not have a precious place in our lives anymore, because if those are their judgments then they not only don't deserve a place in our lives but they also do not have a clue as to the people we truly are. And that's okay. I can appreciate the ease with which I can cut that toxicity from my life and deeply embrace the profound amounts of love, peace, joy, and goodness in my life. They make it an easy break to make, and I appreciate that.
   So today is Asher's birthday. One year ago today he was taken from my womb and born into Heaven. We decided to celebrate the day. This day last year was so filled with intense heartache and physical and emotional trauma, I cannot even describe, but today we celebrated that Asher lived. Yesterday I transformed the one item we'd ever bought him- a blanket- into a stuffed elephant. The pattern was from ShinyHappyWorld on Etsy, and it was such an easy little project. I did much ugly crying as a cut into the precious blanket that has been folded in a basket on my dresser for more than  a year, and spent most of yesterday with red, swollen eyes and a stuffy nose, but today we celebrated. We had our usual Friday errands, but started them with breakfast out, Elliott(as the elephant was named), buckled into the car between the kids in the back. Even in the sadness of having an unexpected little burial service for our beloved rescued guinea pig, Wilbur, the kids celebrated Asher through their tears, declaring that Wilbur must have needed to go to Heaven for Asher's birthday to be his birthday gift. Now Asher has a pet in Heaven just like they have pets on Earth. I love my little ones. They're pretty awesome, right? The awesomest. It's okay, you can agree. I won't tell your kids.